Campechana

46 Comments

I had a favorite menu item at our local country club’s restaurant that sadly disappeared when the chef moved on. It was campechana – a combination of shrimp and avocados in a zesty tomato sauce, served chilled with tortilla chips.

Never did I realize it was an actual “thing” until I googled it. Turns out, recipes for campechana are commonplace! By definition, it’s a seafood cocktail from Campeche, a coastal state in Mexico.

I immediately grabbed one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, published in 2000, and if you look closely at the cover photo, there is the shrimp cocktail!!!

I have a soft spot for Rick Bayless for many reasons. He’s a passionate chef and student of Mexican cookery, who been married to his wife forever, with whom he’s collaborated on books. (As well as with their daughter!) So I respect that. He also does a lot of charitable work in Chicago and in Mexico and is a total nerd.

But mostly for this.

Fifteen years ago I took my daughter to Chicago for her 18th birthday. It was all about shopping, visiting the sites, and enjoying great meals. I had made reservations at Frontera, and Charlie Trotter’s for our two big nights out.

At Frontera, which was outstanding in every way, I saw that Rick Bayless himself was in the kitchen, and asked if we could say hello. And he was kind and took this memorable photo with Emma.

I decided to make the shrimp cocktail recipe that’s pictured on the book cover. It’s not called campechana but a ceviche, which seems odd because it doesn’t fit my definition of ceviche. But Mr. B. Knows his stuff, so I will not quibble.

Ceviche de Camaron
4 hefty servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound smallish shrimp, peeled, de-veined
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes.

Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.


In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid.

Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado.

Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime.

Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside.

The ceviche is best made the day it is served.

If you want a more Southwestern-inspired Campechana, I found one on Epicurious that I’m trying next. It has roasted green chiles and includes crab meat!

So what I’ve gathered, whether it’s called Campechana, or a seafood cocktail, or a ceviche-style shrimp cocktail, the basic ingredients are similar, being shrimp and avocado in (typically) a red sauce. And from there you can get as spicy and zingy and creative as you wish!

The campechana I remember had no cucumber or jicama, but they added a great texture.

The only other difference I can detect from my campechana that I loved and this and other similar shrimp cocktail recipe is the amount of red sauce and the viscosity of the red sauce. I have to say I prefer a bit more sauciness than what’s in this recipe.

46 thoughts on “Campechana

    • What I used to order was more a 50-50 mixture of shrimp/avocado, and the tomato liquid. But still all good flavor and texture.

  1. Campechana is big here in Arizona, and I love it! We make it quite often and our recipe — not surprising — is almost identical to Rick Bayless’ ceviche. This is something we have as our sole meal on occasion. The problem with serving it as a starter is that you just can stop! So we made it dinner! Thanks for sharing your story of meeting him at Frontera! I love his work!

    • He was so kind to stop and allow a photograph. It was so special. When our ex-chef prepared campechana, there was more of a tomato component, whereas mine looks like a bowl of packed-in shrimp and avocado. And, it’s not as pretty this way. I saw Clamato in some recipes, so maybe that’s one way to thin the sauce a bit. But wow, this was good. I actually always got it as my meal, enjoying it while my husband had a steak! I just never knew it was a thing!

    • HAHAHAHA! These were given to me by special friends who’ve since moved away, so I really love using these glasses. They were bought in Mexico and I just love them!

    • Yes, it’s a saucy red sauce. In fact, what I used to get had much more saucy liquid in it, which I prefer. It was more like dipping into salsa with the chips. But the recipe is still very good.

    • Right. Who cares what it’s called for sure. It’s really yummy. You just have to love shrimp/prawns!

  2. Hi there Mimi, what a great food memory meeting Mr. B. I’ve not made it to any of his restaurants, but it’s on my dining bucket list.
    My wife loves Campechana and hasn’t had it in ages so I’m glad you shared this one. It looks very yummy.

    • It was very good. There are so many different ways to make it, I learned. I do prefer it a bit more saucey, but the flavors were great! Hope all is well!

  3. I will definitely try this recipe. It’s sounds incredibly delicious. Adorable pic of your beautiful daughter. :-)

    • Aw, thanks. She’s 33 now. I’m lucky to have 2 foodie daughters, a foodie son-in-law, and a foodie maybe son-in-law-but-happy-to-have-him-as-her-boyfriend.

  4. I too have always called this type of seafood cocktail a ceviche. But I realize that ceviche is a broad term and perhaps your campechana is a special term for ceviche with avocado. Of course semantics don’t matter with food this luscious. GREG

    • I’m certainly not going to challenge a chef, but I did think that ceviche starts out only with raw seafood. The ceviches I’ve had never had tomato in them – they were just limey. And when in central and South America this year, I ate my weight in ceviche! But who cares if the resulting dish is this yummy!

    • He’s great. Frontera was fabulous. I’m sure Topolobampo is wonderful as well. It looks really pretty inside! Yes, I stalk restaurants…

  5. Mimi! This sounds so flavorful and refreshing at the same time! Perfect for summer entertaining! I’m seeing myself on the patio, happily eating a giant helping for lunch, too! Yum! (I love Rick Bayless, too! His place in OHare airport is the only takeout to eat IMHO, assuming it’s still there – it’s been awhile)

    • Oh how nice! I don’t remember seeing a Rick Bayless spot, but we were always in the international terminal. Maybe it’s not there. I would have jumped on it! Yes, you’ll love this. Flavorful, delicious, texture, spicy ness – just about everything you’d want in a meal!

    • Well, Campechana is one name for this! I will make this recipe again, because I did especially enjoy the jicama addition, iffy on the cucumber, but I will make is saucier. Better for dipping, too! You’re welcome. It’s a crappy time of our lives, unfortunately.

    • Exactly. That’s how I was always served Campechana at our country club, so it was like a fun appetizer with the chips, but a seriously good meal as well.

  6. Don’t you hate when chefs move on and menus change!? That happened to us here recently. However, it did encourage us to broaden our horizons and try new local restaurants. Either way, glad you found a suitable replacement for campechana. And I loved that picture with Rick and Emma!

    • Thank you David. Emma was already a foodie by 18, and a huge lover of Mexican food, so it was just an overall perfect experience. We actually never appreciated this ex-chef much, even though he could do a good job, like when he did my older daughter’s bridal luncheon at the house. Living where we do, chefs/cooks have to serve food that people want, which isn’t food that I want. So it’s really hard to have a successful restaurant here. And, unfortunately, because of where we live, there aren’t other restaurants to try! But, that’s why we travel. Anyway, Campechana is fabulous, and now I know I can make it at home!

  7. Your glasses look very Mexican 🌵Making actual shrimp ceviche would require live shrimp, as just like lobster they won’t be fresh enough to eat raw otherwise. So I understand the procedure, even though I agree it is not actually ceviche and has a very different texture and flavor. This also reminds me of a poke bowl.

    • The glasses were born in Mexico! I know, it’s odd this expert calls this a ceviche. And he is an expert. When we were in South America and Central America in the month of march i ate so much ceviche and all were excellent. None were like a seafood cocktail with a tomato base.

      • I guess you would agree Thomas Keller is an expert, too, but there is some nonsense in a book about sous vide with his name on the cover. I suspect it may be an editor’s work. Perhaps he did not call it ceviche himself, but his editor thought calling seafood and lime juice ceviche would make it more approachable for the general public? (In the TK sous vide book, some of the temperatures seem to be increased by lawyers afraid of food poisoning lawsuits.)

      • I know the book. I bought it, and didn’t like it. It was published in the US, so definitely lawyers were involved. Such a shame. Idon’t know about Rick Bayless. He’s spent his adult life studying in Mexico, and has such great respect for the cuisine. In the cookbook he has actual ceviche recipes, and there’s no recipe intro for this one that I used. It just explains that the shrimp is cooked and marinated in lime juice.

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